Moments of panic, end in a blessing on Christmas Eve

January 05, 1995|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Bobby Weinblatt had goodness in his heart and clothing piled in a big white box when he drove to Bea Gaddy's shelter on Dec. 24. Call it a Christmas mitzvah, a blessing across the religious faiths. Call it the universal impulse to help those less fortunate.

Also, call it instant, open-mouthed horror the moment Weinblatt realized -- Oh, Lord! -- he'd absent-mindedly left money in the box of clothes before dropping it off.

The money was lying there in checks -- signed checks sent to him by insurance clients and also blank checks, sitting right there, big as life, in his checkbook.

He recalled tossing the checks into the box to make momentary room on the dining room table when he was piling up clothing to give away. Only now, he realized he had no recollection of ever removing the checks from the box before piling the clothes in.

Instead, he had visions: of people finding the checks, taking them onto the street, and making a small fortune on them. And here it was, Christmas Eve, with no way to call his bank to stop all payments.

For this, there is a Yiddish expression which happens to translate freely into all languages and faiths of the world:

Oy.

Weinblatt, 51, an insurance agent with the Berkshire Associates, realized his problem while he and his wife, Adrianne, dined at a Padonia Road restaurant.

"The checks," he said.

"The checks?" Adrianne Weinblatt said.

"In the box," he said, as his heart ceased all beating.

Now he bolted for a pay phone. On the line, he could hear the happy tumult of Bea Gaddy's workers in the background.

"We're getting things ready for the kids," Gaddy said, hollering above the din, helped not at all on Weinblatt's end by a man standing near him with a screaming child.

"I left a bunch of checks in a white box," Weinblatt said. "Can you find them?"

"Mr. Weinblatt. . ." said Gaddy.

"Wait a minute," said Weinblatt, turning frantically to the man and the howling child. "Would you mind taking that kid away, I'm talking to Bea Gaddy and I can't hear her."

"What are you saying?" the man said. "I should take my kid out into the cold?"

"Mr. Weinblatt," said Gaddy, "we've got about 700 boxes of clothes down here."

"Could you look for it?" Weinblatt hollered over the crying of the nearby child and the noise of Gaddy's workers.

"We'll do our best," Gaddy said. "But you understand . . ."

"I'll call you back in a little while," Weinblatt said.

He forced himself to eat about half his dinner, then got back on the phone.

"We can't find anything," Gaddy said.

"I'm coming down," Weinblatt said.

And now, yesterday morning, he was remembering, "I drive down there Christmas Eve, and there we go, rummaging through 16,000 bags and boxes of stuff. I even saw a bag of toys I'd brought down there two days earlier.

"We look through stuff piled up in the kitchen, where there's pots of food cooking. We look through stuff piled in Bea's bedroom. We look through stuff piled in the basement, where there's one little 10-watt light bulb.

"And everybody's as polite and as helpful as they can be, even though they're running around like crazy trying to get organized. In fact, one guy asked if I could make some deliveries."

Anyway, it's all gone: the box, the clothes, the checks. Weinblatt began to reflect.

He makes donations every Christmas, and takes at least one of his kids -- Brett, 12, and Adam, 8 -- along with him to give them perspective: Not everybody's got a warm house and toys. Be grateful for your blessings.

He left Gaddy's with mixed feelings: Yes, he'd lost his checks. But he saw homeless people happily clutching new clothing.

"My checks are secondary in the long run," he thought, and felt good that he'd done a blessing.

Until he got home.

There, on the dining room table, were all his checks.

Which he'd removed from the box hours earlier, and didn't even remember.

And if that's not a blessing, what is?

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